Monday, 29 February 2016

Various bits of Belconnen etc

After a stroll to say hello to Arabella, Tammy and I dropped Frances off at a drawing class and headed to vague area of Ginniderra Creek.  I began at Giralang Ponds.

The big hope here was Nankeen Night-heron which roost in the Casuarinas.  Actually that should be "Sometimes roost in the Casuarinas.": and as you might infer today was not one of those times.  In the general region of Herons etc I soon spotted 3 Australian White Ibis (not common recently) and a pair of White-faced Herons on a power line.
I then spotted another two mucking around in the reeds.  I'd guess a family group.  A Lathams Snipe then sqwarked its way off a mud bank.  All told I ended up with 25 species for the site.

I then shifted a few '00m to McKellar Pond where in the past Little Bittern and Australasian Bittern have been sighted.  Not today they weren't.  The best bird - which has turned out to be Bird of the Day - here was Olive-backed Oriole.  Surely that is getting ready to pick up its luggage and move on?  A rather small area so only 16 species seen.

As we were moving round the pond there was an obvious path through a watercourse.  It was being used as a snoozing ground by Moggie vulgaris.  On seeing Tammie - who was very interested in a new bit of fur - it stood up stretched, arched its back and swore vigorously.  As it had a collar with contact details it was obviously someone's beloved pet so I didn't want a brawl to erupt (and it was close to Tammy in size so I have doubts about who would have won).  Eventually the feline moved away.
Our next stop was the Peninsula of Lake Ginninderra. Many Sulphur-crested Cockatoos were there including this indolent blighter who was bumming food from an adult.
 We circled the Peninsula, marveling at the development of the Town Centre.  When we first moved to Canberra the local community were up in arms about a two story pub being built on the lake shore.  The slum on the left appears to be 22 storeys high and I am unsure about the ones on the RHS: I wonder where they all park.  I am also very pleased I no longer work in the area.
 There were several Dusky Woodswallows around.  They were all in ones or twos and seemed to be showing no signs of migrating.
25 species were written down by the time we got back to the dog run where I let Tammie off the lead because I could.  Surprisingly there were no other dogs in the small dogs area.

Our final stop was back towards the City to check on the Powerful Owl at Turner.  It was present as hoped.  As usual for my observations it had no prey.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Some like it hottish

Unfortunately neither Marilyn Monroe nor Tony Curtis graced the cemetery at Mongarlowe today.  I decided to drop out there as a member of the Canberra Orchid group had reported that the orchids were very good.

I checked out a few damp places in Bungendore and can report there were good numbers of Australian Shelduck but as far as I could determine no Plumed Whistling Ducks.

Heading on out towards Braidwood (10am 30oC) I found that Palerang Shire Council were doing what they do best: blocking traffic.  I seemed to sit there forever, but it was probably only 7 or 8 minutes.
 When traffic finally started coming towards us I counted 30 cars coming through so Lord knows how long they had been waiting.  The only evidence of any actual work at this point was this guy moving the cones around.
In fairness when I came back a few hours later it did seem that some tar had been sprayed, but again there seemed to be massive delays and no sign of the workers.

On getting to Mongarlowe (about 10:45, 33oC) I noticed someone in the RFS yard close to the cemetery.  As they were on their knees I guessed they were another orchid hunter, which they turned out to be.

I soon found some orchids.  The first were Eriochilus cucullatus commonly known as Parson's bands.
The vernacular name is apparently a reflection of the laterals looking like the collar worn by a parson.  In my mind when looked at from the from they always look like fire-and-brimstone  evangelists with big fat lips and waving arms.  The two specimens below exemplify this metaphor.
 Some more Eriochilus can be seen behind the two Dipodium reflexum.
 I found it difficult to get the camera to focus on the flowers today and this is the best I could do for Greenhood.
 I could only find one species of Corunastylis, in flower.  This was C. olignantha

There were, as forecast, a lot of Spiranthes australis in flower, although it seemed a lot of the florets had gone over.
 There were a few dicotyledons in flower as well.  Comesperma ericinum (que? how come the genus ends with 'a' and the species with 'um' - oh, of course it is taxonomy) cooperated in posing for a photo before the breeze got up.
Epacris impressa was also evident but was not helpful.  I have no idea what the next flower is, but it is pretty so probably a weed!  My friend Ian Fraser has identified this example as an Epilobium.  A high proption of the ANPS WW records for this species are " Epilobium sp." probably from finding it without flowers.  From looking at the entries for the genus in Plantnet I rate the most likely species to be E. billardiereanum.  (I don't think it is E. hirsutum - also possible in the area - but introduced and thus a weed!) 
 After leaving the cemetery (11:45, 35oC) I decided to go down Northangera Rd to see what is there.  My first bit of excitement was a Spotted Quail-thrush running across the road.  Hello, Bird of the Day!  A kilometre or so further and two huge Wedge-tailed Eagles - in truth there is no other sort - took off from a roadkill kangaroo on which they were dining, and flew into a tree.  The images show the contrast in plumage between the young bird on the left and the much older - possibly fully adult - one on the right.

I paused in Braidwood to get a very good (9/10) Steak and Kidney pie at the Bakery.  I deleted a point as it wasn't that hot - but possibly I waited too long to start eating it.  Less delay at the roadworks and on home.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Not yet melted

The weather forecast for the next three days is looking a tad ordinary with maxima of 35-36oC  so I thought I should take the chance to get out for at least most of the day. I had my binoculars with me to see what I could scare up in the way of birds.

The first venue was to meet daughter and grand-daughter for a lap of the Central Basin of Lake Burley Griffin.  As we crossed Parkes Way I looked at the traffic banked up on the road and thought how lucky I was not to work any more.
Why is there so much traffic?  In part it is because the people in the outer reaches of the urban area seem not to have heard of car pooling.

When I have looked into Census data on journey to work in the past it has resolved to an average of 1/5th of the people travelling by car doing so as a passenger.  I have also observed this when running early in the morning in most of Australia's State capitals.

This morning I did a quick check as the walked across Kings Avenue bridge.  We crossed with 55 passenger vehicles (not counting taxis) and only 1 of them had a passenger!

This is the view looking back down the Lake from near Kings Avenue.
 I recorded 22 species in this phase of the expedition which I thought quite reasonable.  Especially as I had the small dog to worry about and to keep alert to idiots on bicycles who seem not to realise the difference between:

  • a bunch sprint on the Champs Elysee; and 
  • commuting on a shared facility!

This view was looking West as we crossed back over Commonwealth Avenue.
Frances then went to a class at the School of Art and the small dog and I headed out to the Weston Creek ponds.  Like most of the water bodies around Canberra the official purpose of this pond is to allow the sediment and other crud to drop out of the water flowing down a Creek to drop out before it gets into the Murrumbidgee.  It is still a pretty desolate as the planted trees haven't yet grown - which is quite surprising as there is very good regrowth in the nearby pine forest, following a bush fire in 2001.

The obvious birding attraction is the ponds themselves.  A concrete wall - perhaps some sort of baffle to trap the burger wrappers and energy drink cans - is out in the middle of one pond and is often a good roost for fowl of various sorts.  The most interesting birds today were 2 Pink-eared Ducks, just out of this image.
 As we completed our tour of this area I heard at least 2 White-fronted Chats calling from a fenced off area.  However that is good enough for Bird of the Day!  This area totaled 17 species.

Our final visit was to an area known as Narrabundah Hill.  I have no idea why it is called that, as it is at least 10km from the suburb of the same name.  It used to be a pine forest until the January 2003 bush fires when the forest basically exploded, taking the most of the suburb of Duffy with it.  Quite a lot of the pines have regrown and some areas have been replanted to eucalypts.

It was very weedy with lots of hawthorns, brambles and St John's Wort when out of the pines.
One of our friends uses this as her local patch and reports very good bird lists on her visits to the area.  She probably doesn't do so late morning at close to 30oC!  My list was only 19 species, dominated numerically by Superb Fairy-wrens, Silvereyes and Common Starlings, mainly feeding on and around the brambles and hawthorns.  Double-barred Fnches were the back-up for Bird of the day.

The total bird list for the day was 44 species, which quite surprised me.  The only species seen at all three sites were Superb Fairy-wren and Australian Magpie, A further 8 species were seen at 2 of the sites.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Bird a Day 2016

I have again started on a campaign to see a different/new bird each day through 2016.  This is my third year (but 4th campaign as I also tried a year starting on 1 July in 2014).

The previous efforts have broken after 162 days (Jan 2014), 173 days (July 2014)  and 166 days (Jan 2015).  Despite starting in mid-Winter, the July 2014 entry should be higher than the others since that included a 4 week trip to Western and Northern NSW.

So far I am 49 days into the January 2016 effort.  My best bird thus far is undoubtedly the Paradise Shelduck seen on January 2: I could also have recorded Hudsonian Godwit (also a BaD 7) on that day, but someone else in the game had scored that on January 1!

Looking at 2016 in contrast with 2015 is interesting.  I record two scores for species.  The first is called  % and is based on the number of times the species has been recorded in NSW by recorders for eBird.  Smaller is better as implies rarer.  (Its actually an index rather than a percentage, with a high score of 528 for Australian Magpie.)  The second is a more subjective rating of rarity requested by Bird-a-Day in which bigger (maximum 7) is better.

Here are some charts:
This indicates that I have generally recorded less common (ie lower %)  birds in 2016 than in 2015, which is good as it implies I have got a store of easier birds for later!  If I can just get through to when we take some trips away I should easily do better than previous examples - but that means getting a few days longer anyway!

Looking at the BaD scores it appears that introducing scores in locality, rather than all of NSW, gives a slightly different picture as I have pretty consistently been lower - which implies more common birds - in 2016.  This is because some of the birds with a low %  have also had a low BaD score.  For example,

  • Hooded Plover has a very low % of 3, but I have also giving it a BaD score of 3 since in Summer they are often seen at the location I ticked.  
  • Pallid Cuckoo has a % of 7.5 (very low) but I regard them as one of the 'sounds of Summer" in our area so only rate it a 3.  In Spring it would probably be a 2. 
At the other end of the spectrum a couple of my birds were coded 6 as rare in the Whiskers Creek area but had quite high % scores:

  • Whistling Kite - possibly the commonest raptor at the coast (thus a %  of 136) and not uncommon along the rivers of the ACT - but only recorded a handful of times in 10 years in Carwoola.
  • Pelican: code 1  at the coast and on Canberra's Lakes, but only recorded 4 times in 10 years at Carwoola.

Overall I am optimistic about doing better than in the past.  Diversity at home is very good this year, we have a few short trips planned and there are some nice oddities on which I have continued to dip in Canberra (but my luck must change soon)..

Visiting a couple of tourist attractions

On 18 February we visited the Australian National Botanical Gardens, primarily to look for artistically curled leaves and butterflies, and Cockington Green, primarily to have a look at the place at our own pace.

The leaves will appear here in due course when they have been dealt with artistically.  The only interesting butterfly seen was a McLeay's Swallowtail which did not pose conveniently for a snap.

One of the roos did pose displaying both a collar - showing it has been darted in a trial of contraceptives - and a pink ear tag.  Both collars and pink eartags can be anticipated in larger numbers in Oxford Street on 5 March but I don't think contraception is exactly needed there.
Going up the Rainforest gully we encountered a tree surgeon doing his stuff.
Failing to find any photogenic butterflies we went to check the Gippsland water dragons in the Rock Garden.  I'll start with the scales on the back of a dragon's head
They have a colourful throat.
And long pointy claws.
I am assuming that the light basic colour of this one is somehow related to it having its tail in the relatively cool water.  Or perhaps it is just a light dragon!
We then moved on to Cockington Green.  The first model is of the main building and is set up to demonstrate the impact of 1:12 models
On our previous visit the most obvious ethnic group were large numbers of Indian families.  Today nearly all the visitors were Chinese, and appeared to be travelling by coach.  Quite a few of them had selfie sticks.
The change I noticed was the luxuriance of the flowers.  Checking back to the previous post, it does look as though they were more obvious on this day.

I expect to visit at least once more to see when the place looks like in Winter.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

COG does a lap of Lake Tuggers

26 Members and guests, including 2 visitors from Cambridge UK gathered at 8:30 on the Eastern shores of Lake Tuggeranong.   In the early stages of the walk we had frequent reminders that it was a shared path.
In contrast to the lycra-clad Visigoths who frequent the track along the Northern side of Lake Burley Griffin the riders here were pretty considerate and frequently used their warning devices to alert us to their presence.  Also, it is good as a point of policy to see quite a few folk riding to work.

The lake generally looked in reasonable order although I was intrigued to see a sign near the dam wall saying the Lake was closed.
None of the other signs said this so I presume it was just that the TAMS EL1 responsible for maintaining this sign was at a workshop and it was awaiting their return for removal.

Closed or not a bunch of researchers were hard at it in a tinny.
Assuming they were associated with a ute mit boat trailer at the ramp off Mortimer Lewis Drive they were something to do with UC Ecology.  Some doubts were expressed about the edibility of anything that lived in the Lake.

Before moving off there was already badinage regarding the number of Little Corellas ..
.. visible and audible on the far bank.  By the end of the walk one member had counted 61 and this was agreed to be the exact number.  They were engaged in obvious breeding behaviour

In the main flock feeding on the ground there were some interactions amongst members of the flock.

We were unsure whether this was making love or  - IMHO more likely at  this time of year - war.

The other breeding activity seen was by Magpie-larks.  It was thought there were two chicks in this nest.  The postures of the female parent seem worthy of a caption contest!

In the intervening water quite a lot of Eurasian Coots were visible.  Due to their high level of activity – and the distance covered in the walk - it wasn’t realistic to come up with  precise count and 100 was taken as a realistic estimate.  Fair numbers were seen of the other two common ‘hens’ Australian Swamphen and Dusky Moorhens.  

We also observed reasonable numbers of the commoner species of Duck and the three common Cormorants.  First Great Cormorants on the buoy line at the dam ...
.. then a very shiny looking Little Black Cormorant
.. and a female Darter.
The number of Great Cormorants was possibly better than reasonable, triggering a “large number filter” in my logging application.  The proof of a large number of Cormorants in the area is given by the guano ridden state of the foliage on this tree.
The Black Swans in the area appear to have learnt that they can bum food from humans.  When first seen this family were exploring a fence, through which we suspect they were fed.  They then moved swiftly towards us.
Indeed they moved so swiftly that my camera caught two images of the cygnets' necks when compensating for backlighting.  They were too young for the alternate explanation of the image (repeated low flight past Lucas Heights) to apply. 

The Casuarina cunninghamiana on the Western shore was in flower 
.. and had attracted a good number of small bush birds including Yellow-rumped, Brown, Striated and Yellow Thornbills.  The last-named species were originally identified by call but were difficult to get in the glass.  It is hoped most members of the group ended up with a tickable view.

We ended with 48 species.  There were a few surprising omissions (including Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Noisy Friarbird, Red-browed Finch and Common Blackbird).